This closed shop must open again to every class and race
Cricket should be able to devise its own statement about a game everyone plays on equal terms
The England and Wales Cricket Board’s leadership is doubtless following the furore in football’s Premier League about its swift identification, after the death of George Floyd, with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Cricket is regrettably not free from racism, but football has had a terrible problem with it for decades. The game’s leaders abominate it and argue unequivocally for equal opportunity and respect for footballers of all races. So, when Black Lives Matter came along, the Premier League eagerly associated itself with the movement, and joined in the international disgust at Floyd’s killing.
However, no one seemed to read the BLM small print. The movement has now been exposed as having weaponised anti-racism to attack society, not just anti-black bigotry. The white anarchists who play a substantial part in it wish, among other things, to overthrow capitalism, end the “nuclear family” and defund the police. Worse, statements by BLM activists about “Israel’s colonial, apartheid regime” have brought accusations of anti-Semitism (apparently, some forms of racism are more acceptable than others).
Crystal Palace last week said that while they abhorred racism, they could not associate themselves with other aspects of the movement. Sky and BBC pundits have removed the BLM badges they were proudly wearing on air.
Premier League players will continue to wear a bespoke Black Lives Matter badge for the rest of the season, because it was designed by a Watford player, and is not the authorised badge of the political movement. It is hard to think of a more rampantly capitalist business in Britain than Premier League football; and professional football is marketed as a game to which parents can take their children – their nuclear family; and the game relies heavily on the police to deter trouble and, indeed, to round up abusive racists. The small print is, after all, hugely important.
This should be a lesson to the ECB: but our cricketers and those of the West Indies will wear the bespoke Premier League badge on the collar of their shirts when the Test series starts tomorrow. The ECB and captain Joe Root say they will do so because there is no place for racism in the game. There certainly is not. But the ECB’s determination to signal virtue has, as in football, obscured the issue about the sort of people with whom it has jumped into bed.
Cricket should be able to devise its own statement about a game that everyone plays on equal terms and that does not tolerate racially offensive behaviour, without associating itself with the equally offensive policies of the antiSemitic anarchists who run BLM. It still has time to do so.
It is, too, widely recognised that a most effective way of eliminating racism from cricket is to ensure more black people play the game at every level. Clare Connor, the former England women’s captain, who as well as being a senior ECB official will, in 2021, become the first female president of MCC, has already promised greater diversity.
So, as Nick Hoult reported in these pages last week, has the ECB itself. He quoted Lonsdale Skinner, chairman of the African Caribbean Cricket Association, as saying black people had been “deliberately excluded” from the game since the 1990s: whereas in 1995 there were 33 black British first-class cricketers, now there are only 13. Skinner makes a good point, too, when he says the county academy system excludes players from “poor black communities”. It
is, however, a point that applies to poor people from all communities, not just black ones.
Cricket cannot pretend that it is entirely colour blind. But the dearth of black cricketers is also partly caused by factors that account for the growing dearth of white working-class cricketers, and these must be addressed by the ECB and clubs in order to encourage latent talent wherever it is to be found, and irrespective of ethnicity. In some areas, by contrast, Asian-dominated clubs thrive: this is not least because there is a larger Asian middle class, and it has all the advantages middle-class people do – notably more opportunities to play and watch cricket, and to participate in the game in all ways.
Less affluent people, whether black, white or of any other race, usually attend schools without playing fields and where cricket is not played; they could never afford (as countless British West Indians did in the 1970s) to buy tickets to watch inspirational black and white cricketers playing Tests.
Of course, there is a mass of untapped black cricketing ability that should be harnessed to the game at all levels, and thousands of potential black spectators, too; but the same applies to poor whites.
Those charged with maintaining the commercial and moral health of cricket must enable the game once more to be open to people of every class and race.
One superb initiative, which greatly benefited black youngsters, was the Haringey Cricket College, founded in the 1980s. It bred a number of first-class cricketers from poor backgrounds.
The ECB must assist poorer communities to build a national version of this. It requires the enlistment of volunteer coaches; fundraisers who can provide means to buy kit; links between existing clubs and schools; but, above all, places to practise and play.
Black and disadvantaged white people themselves should be enabled and encouraged to own these schemes, and not patronisingly organised by well-meaning middle-class people more than is absolutely necessary.
Such a programme would be in everyone’s interests. It would break down racial and class barriers. It would give a new sense of mission to county, town and village clubs. It would improve the nation’s physical and moral health. It would empower people who feel they lack any power at all.
Cricket has become a closed shop in too many ways: it is time to open it up again. And virtuesignalling is not enough.
Making a stand: Jos Buttler sports a BLM badge